Vol. 40 No. 9
ByAmy L. Jarmon
Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog. She has practiced law in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The academic traits used to achieve good grades translate directly into professional traits needed in the workplace. Whether you are a summer associate or new employee waiting for bar results, you want to gain a reputation for professionalism from the first day on your job. This article discusses some of the successful academic traits to carry over into your summer employment.
Seriousness of purpose in class translates to exemplary work ethic in the office. Law school is preparation for a profession and not just another degree. Law students who have prepared thoroughly for each class, worked conscientiously on all assignments, and challenged themselves to achieve high standards in their work are ready to produce excellent work products. They have developed a work ethic in their academics that will allow them to meet the demands of any legal setting.
Organized scheduling in law school translates to proper work management in employment tasks. Writing courses, advocacy classes, clinics, and other non-exam courses allow students to become competent in scheduling tasks within larger projects to produce high-quality results. Leadership positions in student organizations also provide opportunities to learn these skills through responsibilities for events or fund-raising projects. Managing research and writing assignments and client projects is an essential professional skill for the legal environment.
Avoidance of procrastination in academics translates to consistent work efforts at the office.Law students who have begun papers or projects as soon as they are assigned and worked consistently on them throughout the time allotted will attain better results and be less stressed in the workplace. Supervising attorneys will be displeased if regularly asked for extensions on deadlines. Work products of merely draft quality will be unacceptable in a legal environment.
Regular evaluation of one’s performance to achieve improvement during law school translates into growth on the job. Successful law students self-monitor and critique their performance each semester. They become adept at planning strategies for improvement in their grades by discarding marginal study habits and implementing new habits. They regularly seek feedback from professors to improve their work. Partners will be impressed by those who ask for constructive criticism and show a pursuit for excellence by improving on each memorandum, brief, or motion assigned.
Preparedness for class and appointments in law school translates to preparedness for workplace assignments and meetings. Successful law students are always prepared for every academic situation. They read materials and think about possible questions before going to class—even when they know the professor will not call on them. They are prepared to take notes at every appointment with a professor or dean. They think about the agenda items for a student organization meeting so that they can contribute positively to the discussion. Being prepared to participate actively in any task, appointment, or meeting is important to success in a legal job.
Personal responsibility as a law student translates to maturity in the job setting. Successful law students take responsibility for their learning. They do not make excuses for a disappointing grade. They do not blame the professor’s choice of exam questions, the curve for the course, the professor’s teaching style, or other factors. Instead they accept that they need to evaluate their work honestly and make changes because other students were able to perform well in the same circumstances. Successful students will be ready in the work environment to make sure they understand an assignment fully, ask follow-up questions when necessary, and learn how to do tasks that are new to them. They will avoid excuses and focus instead on personal improvement.
Respect for others and authority translates to appropriate business relationships. Law students interact with professors and deans on a regular basis. They also interact with legal professionals who participate as speakers, moot court judges, alumni mentors, or in other capacities. Students who have learned basic etiquette and exhibited respectful conduct in academic situations will flawlessly navigate business etiquette in the workplace. Respect for organizational hierarchy and one’s place within it is important in the legal environment.
Appropriate written and oral communications during law school foreshadow professional communications on the job. Law students who have practiced formality in their e-mail, telephone, and other interactions with professors, deans, and staff will avoid embarrassment in the workplace. These students have learned to discard emoticons, texting abbreviations, and slangy conversational phrases that are only appropriate when chatting informally with friends. Civility, organization, proper sentence structure, spelling, punctuation, and grammar are all important in professional communications.
Recognition that effort is not enough for success in law school translates to greater results on the job. Law students who succeed academically realize that just trying hard is not enough to bring rewards. High grades are based on the results achieved through hard work, actual learning, and insightful application of the law. These students have realized that they do not deserve accolades for just showing up and making some effort. Supervising attorneys will be looking for excellence and not just inefficient or ineffective attempts at completing an assignment. Accolades will be given only to those who earn them.
Presentation of oneself as a professional in law school translates to confidence as a professional in the workplace. Successful law students transform themselves from undergraduate students into students in a profession. They learn how to think more critically, to discuss matters in an organized fashion, to interact with professors in a professional manner, and to present themselves as mature adults. They realize that dressing the part in a suit and tie or dress and heels will not be enough; they live the part of being professional.
Take the traits that make you successful in law school and use them to your advantage in the workplace. If you have not cultivated the traits of success that are mentioned here, it is never too late to do so. Evaluate your current level on each trait and plan strategies to increase your professionalism before your job begins and throughout your career.